Rassie Erasmus will stick to tried and tested Springboks for the British and Irish Lions series
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DURBAN - It goes without saying that the squad of Springboks that won the World Cup 18 months ago will en masse provide the core of the 45-man Bok squad announced tonight for the series against the British & Irish Lions.
There are two logical reasons for this. Firstly, if ain't broke, don't try and fix it; and secondly, the Boks haven't played since their day of glory in Yokohama which means there has been little opportunity for players to play their way in or out of favour.
Of course, there has been a little attrition — Tendai Mtawarira, Francois Louw and Schalk Brits have retired — and there are question marks over the fitness of locks Lood de Jager and RG Snyman — but there will also be new additions because Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus wants to work with a broader squad before the warm-up Tests against Georgia, and then he will whittle the squad down to between 37 and 35 (he has said).
With the Boks so underdone and up against such a mighty foe in the Lions, it is perfectly understandable that this is not the time for bold experimentation. Erasmus and head coach Jacques Nienaber need to work with the familiar, and tried and tested.
Still, there have been opportunities for overseas-based South Africans on the fringes of the Test team to put their hands up for some kind of a role with the Boks. It really has been a blessing for Erasmus that the northern hemisphere competitions have fared better in the Covid-19 pandemic than those in SA, where there was a much longer and harder lockdown.
That has meant frontline Boks such as Faf de Klerk, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe, Eben Etzebeth and Vincent Koch are battle-hardened and it has also allowed others to put their hand up. I would be very surprised if Jean-luc and Dan du Preez of Sale Sharks have not played their way into the squad, and the same for Montpellier centre Jan Serfontein and Leicester No 8 Jasper Wiese.
And it would be criminal if Marcell Coetzee's name is not read out given his sensational form for Ulster before he moved back to SA (he makes his debut for the Bulls tonight in their game against the Stormers).
The 25-year-old Wiese has been breaking records as a ball carrier in the English Premiership since leaving the Cheetahs, and would add depth at No 8 after the season-ending injury to Sikhumbuzo Notshe.
There have also been opportunities for local players to state their case. The most obvious inclusion on this score will be veteran flyhalf Morne Steyn, and his vintage form is insurance for Erasmus should a fragile Handre Pollard suffer a recurrence of his knee injury.
New players who are likely to get the nod are Lions centre Wandisile Simelane, Sharks scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse, Sharks fullback Aphelele Fassi and Cheetahs wing Rosko Specman.